Visual Narratives and the Making of Ethnic Feelings: A Cultural Study of Affect, Ethnicity, and Practices of Social Recognition among South Asians in Hong Kong

  • ERNI, John N. (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


In Hong Kong, South Asians and other ethnic minorities have achieved a more heightened visibility in recent years, notably through wide public debates during and after enactment of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in 2008. However, scholarly research on ethnic minorities in HK remains chronically underdeveloped, even as the struggle for assimilation and recognition among these communities (e.g. in education, employment, social adaptation, cultural survival) continues to generate a growing social tension and threaten social harmony. To date, there is little attention paid to the minorities’ own sense of subjecthood, such as their construction and articulation of self- understanding formed through lived experiences, sensibilities, emotions, sentiments, empathy, and even tempers and moods. Social misunderstanding, not to mention stereotyping, mystification, and discrimination, often stems from a neglect of the surprising and enlivening texture of minorities’ emotional world. This study attempts to explore the “private sphere” of minority cultures through an in-depth firsthand account of their affective energies and expressions. Taking the important cue of the “affective turn” in cultural theory over the past 15 years or so, this study asks: in light of the present and future need of social recognition of ethnic minorities in HK, what are the representations of affective/emotional energies and intensities surrounding the ethnic figures/strangers in HK films (e.g. passivity, shame, anger, joy, charm, belonging, etc.), how do ethnic minorities respond to these visual narratives, and how can their self- representation through visual discourse reveal and transform their lived experience? Using multiple qualitative research methods, we shall (1) produce a critical annotated inventory of the representations of race, ethnicity, and affect/emotion in HK cinema since 1970s; (2) conduct a series of focus group interviews of select ethnic minorities living in HK, to explore their reception of a “landscape of ethnic emotions” through film screening and discussion; (3) study the visual self-portraiture of ethnic affects and attachments (via short videos and photography) produced by a group of carefully chosen ethnic minority persons; and (4) explore the interaction between scholars and HK’s ethnic minority groups by holding, and collecting data from, a two-day international symposium of presentations, screening, and dialogue. The research results will provide intellectual bearings for understanding ethnic minorities’ feelings and need of social recognition, expression, and freedom, and ultimately will have policy implications for reconsidering resource allocation in various social services as part of the government’s leadership for creatively enhancing the city’s multicultural life and harmony.
Effective start/end date1/01/1230/06/15


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